A bipartisan coalition in Congress has called for a $300 million boost in
mental health spending by the Department of Defense (DoD) in response to a
soldier's deadly rampage at one of its psychiatric treatment centers in
Rep. Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.)
Credit: Office of Rep. McMahon
In May Rep. Michael McMahon (D-N.Y.) and 50 other Republican and Democratic
members of Congress formally requested a boost in spending for mental health
programs and a comprehensive postdeployment psychological screening program
for all service members returning from combat zones. The request was sent to
Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chair of the House Defense Appropriations
Subcommittee, who will be writing the DoD Fiscal 2010 spending
"We need to make sure the Department of Defense has the necessary
resources to address this growing problem and soldiers are able to get the
necessary help they deserve," said Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), who signed
onto the request.
The request for additional funding was welcomed by APA and veterans groups,
which have sought increased funding for several years.
"This additional funding would be a good overall boost in the
military's mental health resources," said Lizbet Boroughs, associate
director of APA's Department of Government Relations.
The funding increase is identical to that requested by the Obama
administration as part of its budget released earlier in May. The DoD Fiscal
2010 budget already included requests for $400 million for traumatic brain
injury (TBI) research, screening, and treatment and $800 million for improving
the hiring and retention of psychiatrists and mental health professionals.
The additional funding is needed, according to Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.),
because long and successive combat deployments have put "a significant
burden" on the mental health of soldiers and strained the ability of
families to cope with the absence of the service member.
"We owe it to our brave men and women to provide assistance for all
of their medical needs, physical and mental, to ensure that when they return
from battle, they have a fighting chance to have a stable life again at
home," Maffei said.
Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee,
also sought quick action on a bill—the Veterans Mental Health Screening
and Assessment Act (HR 1308)—that would require mandatory mental health
and TBI screenings for service members within six months of their return from
a combat zone.
The mandatory-screening approach is needed, Filner said, to overcome the
stigma associated with mental illness that has kept some service members who
need care for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or TBI from voluntarily
coming forward for testing. Many fear that seeking care for a mental disorder
will have a negative impact on their military career and chances for
"Mandatory medical evaluations by competent medical personnel are
vital to the health of our troops and veterans so they can access the
appropriate support services," Filner said. "Our service members
deserve an accurate postdeployment health assessment, and they need to know
that help is available if they need it."
Legislation to mandate face-to-face screening by a licensed medical
professional is one of the top priorities of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans
of America (IAVA). The group recently launched a nationwide publicity campaign
to offer support and mental health resources to new veterans and to their
families and friends.
"Much more must be done to address troops' psychological injuries
before they reach a crisis point," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and
executive director of IAVA, in a written statement.
Apart from the issue of mandatory screening of active-duty military,
expansion of existing psychiatric screening for combat veterans also has been
urged by veterans groups and APA. In addition to increases for the DoD budget,
Obama's 2010 budget request would expand the mental health screening and
treatment services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The
Fiscal 2010 VA budget focuses on improving screening of veterans in rural
areas, which it would achieve through an increased number of Vet Centers and
mobile health clinics that provide assessment and treatment in sparsely
More information on the Obama administration's Fiscal 2010 budget is
The text of HR 1308 can be accessed at<http://thomas.loc.gov>
by searching on the bill number. ▪